The Calcutta high court struck down an act Mamata Banerjee’s government had used to wrest control of the land that the Left Front had acquired for the Tatas for its Singur Nano project. The court ruled that the Singur Land Rehabilitation and Development Act, 2011, was unconstitutional and void.
The Singur agitation is one of the issues that propelled Mamata to power in Bengal in 2011. Soon after she became CM, the Trinamool Congress government passed the Act and tried to take possession of the land on June 21. The next day, the Tatas moved the HC but failed to get a stay. On June 29, the Supreme Court directed the state government not to transfer the land to farmers till the matter is disposed of by the HC.
On September 28, Justice I P Mukerji of the HC ruled in favour of the state government and directed Tata Motors to seek compensation. The order was challenged by the Tatas before a division bench of Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice Mrinal Kanti Chaudhuri of the HC.
The bench struck down the Act on grounds that certain provisions in it are in direct conflict with that of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and thereby repugnant to it. The state government should have taken prior permission from the President before promulgating the Act, the bench held.
“The Singur Act is a law relating to acquisition and it appears to us that without having assent from the President, the act is hit by Article 254(1) of the Constitution. Certain provisions of the Act are in direct conflict with that of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 and thereby repugnant to it,” the bench said.
The bench didn’t buy the state government’s argument that it was reclaiming the acquired land to return a portion of it to “unwilling farmers”. The court held that the Act can’t be treated as for public purpose when the intention is to return land to the unwilling farmers.
“We hold that the single judge, after holding that the intention of the legislature to pay compensation is vague and uncertain, had no power to insert or recast or rewrite the statute by inserting certain sections of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894. Therefore, the said part of the order is not sustainable in the eye of law and set aside,” the bench ordered. The bench granted the state government a couple of months to move a Special Leave Petition before the Supreme Court. For the next two months, status quo will have to be maintained in Singur.
After the verdict, Justice Ghose told state lawyers: “My heart is with you but the law is against the Act.” The counsels who appeared for the state claimed that it was not sustainable verdict and said they would move SC.